In addition to the standardized tests including the GMAT, there are several other components to your MBA application you'll want to prepare.

Application Components

Transcripts

In order to complete your application, you will need to submit official transcripts from each institution at which you studied. Each transcript should contain a complete record of the studies to date at the institution from which it was issued, including the subjects taken and grades earned in each subject.

Resume

While the admissions committee may spend only a few seconds reviewing your resume, it's crucial in creating that first impression of you as a person, employee and potential business school student. To make the best impression possible, provide details of your accomplishments, responsibilities and contributions. Where possible, use concrete numbers to demonstrate achievement. Be as thorough, but concise as possible, and include your strongest work at the top of your resume. This is also a great place to highlight your non-work related activities such as community service, campus leadership, and special honors you've received.

Letters of Recommendation

You will need to submit at least two letters of professional recommendations from people who have supervised your work and/or assessed your performance during your career. Schools will be hoping to discover specific descriptions and examples illustrating your potential to make a difference in the world. Choose individuals who know you well, and who will take the time to write thorough, detailed letters with specific anecdotes and examples. The strongest references will demonstrate your leadership potential and personal qualities. And remember, schools are impressed by what the letter says and how it reads, not by the title of the person who writes or the native language of the recommender.

Essays

It is extremely helpful to be aware of what types of questions you will be asked. Although many schools change their essay questions from year to year, by reading a prior year's application, you will get a good idea of the types of stories you will need. Most schools will post the previous year's essay questions on their admissions site. At their core, however, most essay questions are designed to elicit a very fundamental set of information — why do you need an MBA, why now, and why from us? The admissions committee is looking for unequivocal evidence of your professional maturity as shown by your clarity of purpose.

Optional Essay

Many schools will allow you to submit an "optional" essay. This is the perfect vehicle for explaining any major weaknesses (low GPA, low GMAT score, gaps in work experience). You can also use the optional essay to highlight a strength in your candidacy that you didn't disclose elsewhere in your application materials. While it's easy to highlight your accomplishments, don't be afraid of your weaknesses — everyone has them. You're better off acknowledging your shortcomings, providing context for them, and demonstrating how you've worked to overcome them.

Interviews

Most business schools will require an interview as part of the admissions process. You will either be invited to interview as a next step after you submit your application, or some schools allow you to request an interview.

Much like the written essay questions, the admissions interview will likely focus on addressing the questions of why you want an MBA, what you will do with your degree, why you want to attend that particular school and whether a particular school is a good fit.

But while the interview gives the admissions committee an opportunity to glean more information about you as a candidate, it also gives you the opportunity to learn more about the school and ask questions about the program.

Be sure you come prepared with questions — it shows the interviewers you are thoughtful and serious about this decision. Don't waste the opportunity by asking something you already know the answer to or could easily find by doing a little research. Instead, focus on questions that really matter to your experience as a student and what you hope to achieve.

It's also important to follow up after an interview with a thank you letter, which demonstrates your gratitude for the time to be considered, your professionalism, and can act as a reinforcement of your qualifications. Be brief, but specific and sincere.

Taking the GMAT

For many, taking the GMAT might be the most nerve-wracking part of the business school application process — particularly if you think of yourself as a bit math-challenged. But don’t panic. With study and planning you can be well-prepared for the challenge.

About the Test

The GMAT exam of four main sections: Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative and Verbal. The exam is offered year-round and on demand in test centers around the world.

The Analytical Writing Assessment is designed to measure your ability to think critically and to communicate your ideas. It consists of one 30-minute essay for which you will be asked to analyze the reasoning behind a given argument and write a critique of that argument. You are not being asked to present your own views on the subject.

The Integrated Reasoning section will see how you synthesize data, evaluate relevant data from different sources, organize data to see relationships, and combine and manipulate data to solve complex problems that depend on information from one or more sources.

The Quantitative section — also known as the "math" section — measures your ability to reason quantitatively and solve quantitative problems. It consists of two types of questions: problem-solving and data-sufficiency. Both types of questions require knowledge of arithmetic, elementary algebra and commonly known concepts of geometry.

In the Verbal section, three types of multiple-chose questions are used to assess reading comprehension, critical reasoning and sentence correction. You will read and comprehend written material, reason and evaluate arguments, and correct written material to conform to standard written English.

Preparing for the Test

Taking practice tests will help you understand your current skill levels and where you need to focus your study efforts. For any areas in which you find yourself deficient, consider taking one of the many test-prep courses available either online or in a live, group format. Most GMAT test takers start preparing three to six months before the actual test date. Think about you can best prepare, given your discipline, motivation and personal preferences.

Scores and Reports

Your unofficial score report will be available immediately after the test. Official score reports are available online within 20 days to you and to the programs you requested to receive them. If you’re not satisfied with your score, you can take the test up to five times within a 12-month period.

Scheduling Your Exam

To schedule your exam and learn more about the GMAT, visit MBA.com.

Other Standardized Tests

Although the GMAT is still the most widely accepted standardized test by business schools, many consider additional tests as part of their admissions process.

GRE General Test

The GRE General Test is the only admissions test for graduate or business school that lets you skip questions within a section, go back and change answers, and have control to tackle the questions within a section you want to answer first. The GRE is comprised of three key areas:

The Verbal Reasoning section measures your ability to analyze and evaluate written material and synthesize information obtained from it, analyze relationships among component parts of sentences, and recognize relationships among words and concepts.

The Quantitative Reasoning section measures your problem-solving ability, focusing on basic concepts of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis.

The Analytical Writing section measures critical thinking and analytical writing skills, and your ability to articulate and support complex ideas clearly and effectively.

TOEFL iBT

If English is not your native language and you are looking to attend business school where the language of instruction is English, some schools may require you take the TOEFL iBT test. The TOEFL iBT measures your ability to use and understand English at the university level. It evaluates how well you combine your listening, reading, speaking and writing skills to perform academic tasks.

IELTS

Similar to the TOEFL iBT test, the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) assesses the English language proficiency of people who want to study or work where English is used as the language of communication. IELTS test all four language skills — listening, reading, writing and speaking. The IELTS speaking test is a face-to-face interview with a certified examiner.

Are you looking for a structured approach to the application? Consider applying for Forté MBALaunch, a 10-month program that pairs women seeking an MBA with a support network and provides a structured roadmap for applying to business schools.

Campus Visits

Although it's possible to research MBA programs without leaving your home, there is still no substitute for meeting the admissions personnel of potential schools face-to-face. And the best way to do that is to schedule a campus visit, attend one of the many MBA fairs, or meet during an interview.

No matter how much research you've done, there's no substitute for walking the campus. Get a feel for the culture. During your visit you may find that students are friendly and motivated, or you may discover the atmosphere is too competitive and intense. Find out who excels at the school.

Ask yourself: is the campus diverse? Will you meet students from many different backgrounds? Inquire about the alumni. What type of success are they enjoying? If available, set up times to meet with faculty and sit in on MBA courses that are in your area of interest.

If the business school is in a new area or city, take the time to explore the areas you might live and the local attractions.

You should visit several schools during your MBA application process and notes will help you remember what you like best about each school. Bring business cards to share and prepare questions for each event you will attend.

If you're considering schools far from your current location, visiting campuses may seem undoable. When you consider the time, expense and potential benefit of your chosen program, you want to make absolutely certain you're finding your best fit.

How Do You Choose Where to Apply?

It's time to build your list of schools for application. You've read the catalogs, you've done your online research. But you just can't decide. What makes choosing the right MBA programs so hard?

The fact is, choosing the best schools for you is an important and often stressful decision. It's not just an exercise in choosing where to live and attend school for the next two years. You're making a decision that will also impact your professional career and personal lifestyle.

Whether you've just completed your undergraduate degree, or have already begun your career in the working world, there are several strategies that can turn your task from daunting to manageable. Here are a few to help you get started:

Consider the big picture. An MBA program is more than its campus. What's the job market like near the schools you're considering? Where do students get internships? What types of companies recruit at the schools you're considering? Where have former graduates accepted jobs recently?

Research the statistics. You want your MBA degree to give you an automatic leg-up on your competition in the business world. Find out: is the program respected in the region where you hope to make your career? Are students and graduates positive about their MBA experience? Is the faculty well-connected? Do the employers you are interested in recruit interns and graduates? These are all important criteria that will boost your marketability upon graduation.

Consider your decision's impact on your family and your lifestyle. You want to pursue your education, but you want your husband or partner to be happy, too. If you're relocating, will he or she be able to find a job near your school? Does your program offer a school-run organization to support partners of students? Take an honest look at your schedule. Will you have time to network? To spend time with people who are important to you?

Don't be shy. Ask questions. Now's your chance to get the real scoop. Current students are a great resource and will be candid. If problems exist within a department, the students will be the ones to be candid about it. Dig deeper. How rigorous is the program? Are class schedules convenient? What's the grading system like? Is it A, B, C or Pass/Fail? Is there grade non-disclosure? Is the grading system important to you? Have an idea ahead of time what will work best for you. You want to make sure the next two years will bring you the greatest sense of personal satisfaction and achievement possible.

After You've Applied

After you've submitted your application to business school, you can generally expect to receive a decision notification about three months after the application deadline. Check the individual schools' websites for their specific timeframes. The notification you receive will let you know if you've been accepted, waitlisted or denied.

Congratulations, you've been accepted!

After an appropriate celebration, it's time to focus on two things: getting your finances in order and informing your employer of your impending departure. Once you've been admitted, your school will provide you with information on public and private loans and scholarships, as well as other types of financial support. Getting your credit in order before applying is crucial, so make sure to get a copy of your credit report and fix any errors prior to beginning the loan application process.

When it comes to letting your employer know you'll be leaving, always demonstrate the upmost professionalism. Give the appropriate amount of notice, present your resignation in writing, and explain why you're moving on. Make every effort not to burn any bridges and maintain your valuable network.

You're on the waitlist.

Don't panic. Being waitlisted does not mean you won't get in. In fact, it means you were qualified and worthy, but one element might have been lacking. What to do now?

Understand the type of waitlist you're on. There are two types of waitlists. The opt-out waitlist means that a school automatically puts you on the waitlist unless you tell them to remove you. The opt-in waitlist requires that you accept a position on the list, usually within a certain amount of time. If you're still interested in attending the school, you should accept the waitlist offer.

Ask for an application review. Some programs will give you feedback as to why you've been waitlisted. They may even make specific suggestions for how you can improve your chances of getting off the waitlist and into the program. If your school offers reviews, the waitlist letter will say so. If the letter specifically tells you not to contact them, don't ask. But if they don't specifically say, or if the letter is obviously personalized, then feel free to ask for feedback.

Send additional information. Some schools specifically prohibit sending additional information after you've submitted your application. But if your school allows it, consider sending updated information three-to-four weeks after you received your waitlist notification. This could include an updated resume reflecting a promotion, transcript from a recently completed course, an updated GMAT score, a one-page update on recent accomplishments or a new letter of support.

Retake tests, if appropriate. If you suspect you were waitlisted because of your GMAT, GRE or other test scores, focus on additional preparation and try to improve your score by retaking the exam.

Take classes. If a low GPA likely factored into your waitlist status, consider taking additional classes at the local community college to prove you have the intellectual ability as well as the discipline to do well in a rigorous quantitative curriculum. Good options include accounting, microeconomics, calculus or statistics.

Dang, you didn't get in.

Yes, it's disappointing, but don't let it devastate you. If possible, seek feedback from the admissions committee on why you didn't make the cut, then make a plan to overcome any weaknesses in your application package if you'd like to apply again. Schools may look favorably upon re-applicants, as it shows strong interest in the program. You can demonstrate you've grown, addressed your shortcomings and are a committed candidate.